“Well, you’re taller so I guess you’ll take the f*ckin’ Maserati and he’ll take the Ferrari.” I heard the words and just nodded and quipped back ” Okay, that works for me…” and like that, I was locked into my first drive in a Maserati, much less one a significant value and notoriety. Thankfully, I have an acquaintance who’s both trusting and a bigger car nut that I could probably ever be. Why was I driving a Maserati? The 2012 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance but more to the point, the Italian car show, the Concorso Atlantico, on the Saturday preceding the Concours. The car in question? A 1971 Maserati Ghibli Spider, 1 of 125 ever made.
On the Saturday in question, I was up earlier than usual and by 7:45AM I’d shot across Jacksonville over to the double-secret hidden warehouse of cars. I managed to pull in right as the door to the warehouse parted, revealing both cars that my buddy and I would be driving to the car show: a red Maserati Ghibli Spider and a yellow 1967 Ferrari 330 GTC. Both freshly detailed and fueled, the Maserati even freshly restored. Things were definitely looking up over a usual Saturday.
The only downside was the gray, gloomy ceiling of clouds hanging low in the sky and blotting out the morning sun – also giving a slight chill to the air – not very convertible-friendly weather but that wasn’t going to stop me from enjoying the 4.7L V8. After a quick on-the-go tech session with the choke on the Maserati and the fuel pump switch and throttle-pumping in the Ferrari we were off and heading due North to Amelia Island along 1st Coast Highway – a scenic road that on one side gives sweeping view of the Atlantic and on the other a patched view of marshlands and inlets.
At cruising speeds, the Maserati was surprisingly easy to drive. As a early Italian exotic with power steering the heft was taken out of the wheel at higher speeds – nearly to a fault. At around 70MPH the wood-rimmed steering wheel had a surprising amount of play in it, making you second guess the idea that the car will go where you need it to if an evasive steering maneuver were required. Did I mention the massive brake diving and brake steering when applying mild pressure to the middle pedal to scrub speed? It’s a good distraction from the sound of what must be the cowling about to tear off the hinges of the car at speeds above 50MPH from buffeting winds.
Snaking up the coast between the dunes and reeds and behind the bright yellow Maranello coupe, I realized that despite its flaws, the Maserati was still quite fun to drive, lifting off the throttle rewarded with a throaty burble for an overrun, downshifts when passing gave a surprising amount of thrust – perhaps not all of the original 330 Italian ponies have galloped away over the last 41 years. By the time I’d started to get comfortable with the Spider, of course we’d reached our destination: the Omni Plantation. Pulling out onto one of the greens, the significance of the Ghibli Spider hadn’t struck me until one of the volunteers helping arrange the exotics said “Oh wow, a Ghibli Spider! Thanks for bringing this, I was really hoping to see one today!”
Walking the green, there was quite a turn out of the Italian persuasion. From a 599 GTB HGTE to the forefather 365 GTB “Daytona,” a 365BBi to a 400i, 430 Scuderia to 328 GTS, nearly 60 years of Ferrari models were represented in various forms and fashions – definitely favoring shades of red, though! Across the green sat a lone bright yellow Fiat 695 Abarth SS in stark contrast of the deep green course and dark gray sky – rear engine hatch expectedly agape exposing the little engine to the world. The Maserati section was, surprisingly, represented by a single Ghibli Spider. The very same I’d driven in and parked earlier. As a result and surprise to no one, the Ghibli was wearing a large blue ribbon for “Best Maserati in Show” tucked under the windshield wipers.
Sliding back into the very reclined, cushy black leather seat I threw the ribbon up on the rear view mirror, managed to nail the choke just right and motored off the golf course-cum-showroom again trailing the yellow Ferrari 330 GTC. After a quick pit stop(only one of the fuel pumps on the dual fuel tanks of the Ghibli was working!) we found ourselves back on 1st Coast Highway with a handful of open expanses of asphalt on which to stretch the proverbial legs of these two classics. When gaps in the sparse traffic presented themselves, the snort of the Ferrari’s V12 would wail back at me with a compliment of black smoke out of the tail pipes hinting that I’d better down shift as well and get ready to move. This point in the day was where my understanding of the Maserati finally reached critical mass. Looking out over the long, sweeping nose from behind a thin, wooden wheel I found that the controls were all right where I needed them to be. For a car that outdated me by more than decade, the Maserati was surprisingly ergonomic. The tach, speedo, and fuel gauges all easily readable, the oil temperature, clock and amp meter all clear – despite the Italian text – and best of all the gear lever sat unusually high on the console making it quick work to move from the steering wheel to shifter to execute gear changes. After being able to finally relax a bit behind the wheel, I was again struck with the ease at which I could control a classic sports car – this Maser was built to cruise the Autostrada and I have no doubt it can deliver.
Dropping off the Ghibli Spider, I could understand why its owner loved it so much. It gorgeous, red Giugiaro-designed exterior with long-sloping nose leading up to the compact cabin the design feels very timeless and is still quite the head turner. Shame that only 125 were ever made – certainly a disservice done to the automotive community.